A good taco is only as good as the sum of its individual parts.
The tortillas need to be fresh and made from ingredients anyone can pronounce. The meats braised until tender and their flavours intensified or cooked over red-hot charcoal for a slightly smoky and char-flavoured edge to the mix. The salsas should enhance it all with their spicy heat and freshness.
And they always, says Native Tongues chef-owner Cody Willis, need to be topped with white onions and cilantro.
He has some expertise in this area, after all.
In the time since it opened, Native Tongues Taqueria has earned its reputation for crave-worthy tacos, inspired side dishes and an enviable cocktail list. The Beltline joint regularly sees patrons lining up for a taste of beef tongue, confit pork, or chorizo and potatoes – among the other taco offerings in both small and large plate dishes.
At the restaurant’s heart is Willis, and his sense that Calgary needed a cool, funky taco joint. A sense borne both from feeling there was a gap in the dining scene here, but also from his love for the humble – but not basic – taco.
Trips to Mexico that started as a kid going with his family on holidays morphed into eating excursions the further he fell in love with authentic tacos. Vacations with friends saw him searching out real Mexican cuisine until those trips became about specifically searching for an ideal taco as his passion for food and wine grew.
Research and development for what would eventually amount to the Native Tongues menu also happened in New York, Toronto and L.A. as Willis explored the cool taco joints with chef-driven dishes that only nodded to their Mexican heritage. The concept of the restaurant would ultimately go through several phases until a few more trips to Mexico City and Oaxaca inspired Willis to focus more on authenticity than trends.
Among his finds on one trip to the southern Mexican state was a market corridor, lined with meat vendors, vegetable purveyors, salsa makers and people manning grills. Hungry patrons could purchase their meat from one vendor, have it grilled by another and buy toppings and salsas from still others down the alley. A trip to this spot would prove to have the most influence on the Calgary chef who says it was here that he got inspired to make the tacos al carbon, grilling the meats over charcoal and dishing it up family style so diners can build their own tacos at the table.
With so much care and attention to detail going into the pieces being set on the table – the preservative-free tortillas, carefully cooked meat and variety of housemade salsas and guacamole – there is no way the tacos won’t be good.